NY Students Ready to Learn on Rooftop Garden Classroom

November 5, 2013 Updated: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK—A group of high school students, surrounded by freshly planted flowers and herbs, shivered in the morning wind, atop the William Cullen Bryant High School (Q445) in Astoria, Queens. They were waiting for their school rooftop garden to officially open.

It’s a plan for 21st century education, according to Maria Troianos, assistant principal for social studies. “We have to teach students about organic foods, green energy, what it means getting an education outside of the classroom,” she said. “I knew the roof space existed and was underutilized.”

The garden is one of nine created by the Horticultural Society of New York using money from a 2006 blackout settlement between the affected areas in Queens and the power provider, Con Edison. Out of the $17 million settlement, $7.9 million went to the Greening Western Queens Fund of the North Star Fund and helped propel 23 environmental projects in Sunnyside, Astoria, Woodside, and Long Island City, including the school gardens. One more garden is on the way, at Queens’ Aviation High School. It will open on Nov. 16.

“It’s a great validation for us.” said Sen. Michael Gianaris before cutting the ribbon. “And the fact that it’s the kids that are driving it, makes it all the more gratifying.”

“This is a unique situation,” said Pamela Ito, director of Children’s Education at the Horticultural Society of New York (HSNY). This is the only school rooftop garden it have made so far, since most schools don’t have a roof that is both suitable for a garden and safe enough for children.

According to Ito, such places are very important especially in Queens, where there are not many opportunities for children “to get their hands dirty.”

Since they both graduated from Q445, New York state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and Jimmy Van Bramer, New York City Council member, also attended the official opening of the garden. “We had no idea that this rooftop existed,” Simotas said.

Van Bramer would like to see such a program in every school, but noted “funding is usually the issue.”

Most of the plants in the garden are edible and students will use them during their environmental science class offered by the HSNY.

Benches will be installed in the garden, so students can have some of their classes in the open air, such as environmental science, global history, art, and math. The addition of a meteorological station is planned for next summer. Also, more plants and trees will be added, according to Troianos.

The opening was set on the birthday of William Cullen Bryant, a 19th century American poet whose name the school carries. “It’s symbolic,” said Namita Dwarka, school principal. “He was an avid advocate for horticulture.”

In a few weeks, Q445 will harvest its first lettuce. “Rooftop garden! Isn’t that cool?” said Dwarka.

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